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Organised and delivered by the independent charity Rugby League Cares, the Rookie Camp saw 70 first-year full-time professional players participate in a series of presentations and workshops designed to inspire and educate them as they set out on their exciting new career pathway.
The event was held at The Nest in Manchester, the UK training centre for RL Cares partners, the Timpson Group.
Making the transition from club Academies into the high-pressure world of the senior team can be daunting for young players, and the Rookie Camp sets out to smooth that important journey.
Throughout an engaging day, current and recently retired senior players from rugby league and other sports shared their own experiences and offered advice and tips on a wide range of topics and issues.
Former Great Britain centre Keith Senior and current England international Amy Hardcastle helped deliver a workshop on the ‘Rugby League Rollercoaster’; ex-Ireland international Bob Beswick hosted a careers workshop on life alongside and after rugby league; former Wales rugby union players Phil Davies and Tim Jones tackled issues around respect, relationships and consent; and former Kiwi international Robbie Hunter-Paul spoke about how to survive and thrive in a multi-media world.
A panel of players including three-time Man of Steel Paul Sculthorpe, former Wigan and England captain Sean O’Loughlin, former Great Britain prop Barrie McDermott, and ex-Leeds and Great Britain back row Jamie Jones-Buchanan took part in a question and answer session on ‘Lessons from a life of league’; the RFL’s interim chief executive Tony Sutton spoke about the role of the governing body and its relationship with players and their clubs; Wigan Warriors chief executive Kris Radlinski reflected on his career in a moving presentation titled ‘A message to me’; and former England international footballer Stuart Pearce gave a rousing talk about his thoughts on what it takes to be successful and happy as a professional sportsman.
In addition, the rookies took part in an interactive session on gambling awareness, habits and addiction, and joined in a fun workout led by retired players Ryan Hudson and Wayne Godwin.
RL Cares Director of Welfare Steve McCormack said the rookie camp had exceeded all expectations, both from the charity and the rookies themselves.
“The feedback we’ve received so far has been absolutely fantastic and we’re delighted that the young players took so much from Rookie Camp,” said McCormack.
“The aim was to equip the players with information and advice on a range of relevant topics as they enter the first team environment. We want to inspire the sport’s young professionals and enable them to come away from Rookie Camp better prepared to become successful and happy first team players.
“The way the rookies conducted themselves throughout the day was exemplary. All the presenters were blown away by how the youngsters bought in to the event.
“Our presenters spoke about a wide range of topics with a common thread: life as a professional athlete brings with it both challenges and opportunities, and negotiating these is not always straight-forward.
“No matter what sport you play, to become the best player you can be you have to be a good person and a good team-mate and be able to represent your club and your community in the right way.
“That’s at the heart of what Rookie Camp is all about and it was wonderful to see the young players acknowledge and embrace that concept.”
RL Cares had planned to reintroduce the Rookie Camp in 2020 after taking responsibility for delivering player welfare services to the professional game the previous year, only for the pandemic to delay delivery.
The event will now become an annual feature for young professional players, all of whom will continue to be supported by RL Cares and the clubs’ dedicated player welfare managers.
RL Cares Transition Manager Francis Stephenson said the charity will take on board all the feedback from participants in this year’s event to make the 2024 Rookie Camp even more impactful and rewarding.
“Our first Rookie Camp was a huge success and that’s down to the hard work, dedication and commitment of everyone involved,” said Stephenson.
“On behalf of RL Cares, I would like to thank the keynote speakers – Stuart Pearce, Tony Sutton and Kris Radlinski – for their valuable contribution; all the former and current players – Paul Sculthorpe, Keith Senior, Sean O’Loughlin, Barrie McDermott, Bob Beswick, Amy Hardcastle, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Robbie Hunter-Paul, Wayne Godwin and Ryan Hudson – for taking the time to share their experiences with the rookies; and all our brilliant presenters including Phil Davies, Tim Jones and Mark Potter, for their insight.